Chardonnay Bares All: a New Trend on the Rise

Michigan winemakers craft unoaked Chardonnays to bring out the true nature of the grape

Not a Chardonnay fan? Maybe it’s time to give the popular wine another taste.

Many non-fans of the dry white wine dislike the strong oak taste that is not actually a character of the grape varietal itself, but introduced during its fermentation process. A rising trend is to age Chardonnay in stainless steel tanks rather than in traditional oak barrels. The result: un-oaked Chardonnays with flavors that better express the true nature of the grape.

In Michigan, many winemakers are handcrafting steel-fermented Chardonnays, although popular oak-aged Chardonnays are still exploding through wine country. You can sample several un-oaked styles along wine trails across the state. Here are a few suggestions:

Old Mission Peninsula

On Old Mission Peninsula in Traverse City, try Unwooded Chardonnay at Bowers Harbor Vineyards. The $14 per bottle wine features flavors of apple, pear, and citrus. It’s fabulous on its own, though Vintner Spencer Stegenga suggests pairing it with sea bass or chicken enchiladas.

Nearby, winemaker Coenraad Stassen of Brys Estate Vineyard and Winery is handcrafting another delicious option called Naked Chardonnay, which took a silver medal at last year’s Michigan Wine and Spirits Competition. Citrus flavors lead the way to a crisp, clean finish. Watch for its release in the spring as previous vintages are sold out.

A brief, idyllic drive south, Peninsula Cellars crafts Unwooded Chardonnay with flavors of honey and citrus zest for $13.49.

Leelanau Peninsula

Across the bay on Leelanau Peninsula in Suttons Bay, Black Star Farms’ Arcturos Sur Lie Chardonnay is a great food-friendly wine that pairs lovely with cheese, chicken, and fish. The wine is $15.50, and according to winemaker Lee Lutes, “This may be the perfect expression of Michigan Chardonnay. There is no oak used in the fermentation or aging, so what you have is the pure expression of fruit and soil in one of the great grapes of the world.”

Also along the peninsula, 45 North Winery of Lake Leelanau won a bronze medal last year for its Unwooded Chardonnay, which sells for $18.

Southwest Michigan

In Baroda, winemaker Mike de Schaaf of Hickory Creek Winery is crafting his version, a tasty wine called Zero Oak Chardonnay, for $22 a bottle. In nearby Berrien Springs, Lemon Creek Winery has a $10 steel-fermented Chardonnay offering flavors of lemon and peach.

Southeast Michigan

Along the Pioneer Wine Trail in southeast Michigan, Burgdorf’s Winery in Haslett took a silver medal last year at the Michigan Wine and Spirits Competition for its steel-fermented Chardonnay, which sells for $21.99. Vintner Deb Burgdorf says, “A little hint of citrus makes it a wonderful wine to pair with fish or any seafood.” Burgdorf also shares that she enjoys the Chardonnay on its own as a great summertime sipping wine.

Also along the trail, watch for the upcoming release from Lone Oak Vineyard Estate of Grass Lake. Winemaker Kip Barber describes the wine as soft and buttery with ripe melon flavors. When available, the wine will retail at $12.95.

So, what are you waiting for? Get to wine country and try a Michigan steel-fermented Chardonnay!

Lorri Hathaway and Sharon Kegerreis are authors of the award-winning From the Vine: Exploring Michigan Wineries and The History of Michigan Wines. Learn more and get autographed books at